While there is currently no proven treatment to stop or slow the progression of osteoarthritis in the spine, there are treatments to alleviate the pain and other associated symptoms, and for most people the condition will not become debilitating. Some patients with osteoarthritis have minimal or no pain, and may not need treatment.
Most people who require treatment will benefit from a combination of lifestyle changes such as exercise, weight reduction, and smoking cessation.
Most treatment plans for osteoarthritis focus on controlling the pain and improving the patient’s ability to function. Medication is typically used to reduce the inflammation, which in turn reduces the pain and stiffness. In only the most severe cases will surgery be necessary to treat pain and disability from osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis of the Spine and Disc Degeneration
Medical practitioners often refer to osteoarthritis in the spine as spinal arthritis, degenerative joint disease, or arthritis of the facet joints. Spinal arthritis is relatively common and is most likely to occur in people over age fifty. It represents an ongoing, degenerative process in the spine, and may be associated with a number of other degenerative spinal conditions. In particular, osteoarthritis is associated with degenerative discs in the spine.
Degenerative discs and osteoarthritis often occur hand in hand because the disc and facet joints (the joints in the back affected by osteoarthritis) are both part of the same three-joint complex. It is thought that degenerating discs can place undue stress on the facet joints, thus over time leading to degeneration and formation of osteoarthritis in the facet joints (also called zygapophyseal joints). This may be why the two degenerative conditions are so often seen together.